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How Safe Is Your Lab Oven?

Key features to avoid fires and fumes in the lab

Erica Tennenhouse, PhD

Erica Tennenhouse, PhD, is the managing editor of Clinical Lab Manager.

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Lab Oven

Ovens are essential components of most labs, and can be used in a variety of processes including drying glassware, drying samples, melting, and chemical reactions. But with the many potential dangers that come with the use of lab ovens, users must always remember to put safety first.

What is the single greatest risk associated with lab ovens? “Humans,” says Uwe Ross, president of BINDER, Inc. (Bohemia, NY). “I think the danger of getting hurt comes when people don’t understand what they are touching. And one of the biggest safety features of the lab oven is actually to read the user manual.”

Beyond reading the manual, there are certain considerations when it comes to lab ovens that can vastly improve safety. Eric Stimac, general manager of Jeio Tech, Inc. (Billerica, MA), says that for one thing, customers should look for products with safety certifications such as COL or UL.

Customers can usually opt to receive automatic warnings that let them know what their oven is doing. Visual and audible alarms are added features that will tell the user whether the fan in a convection oven has turned off, whether the door has been open for a certain amount of time, or whether the temperature has gone higher than a specified value, says Stimac.

However, to ensure that temperatures are kept within a certain range, both Uwe and Stimac agree that independent temperature safety devices are a step up from alarms. These are essentially temperature fuses that either cut the power at a fixed temperature, or can be programmed to shut the oven down at a specified temperature.

Still, Uwe notes that something as simple as a door that automatically locks when the internal temperature is above a certain point, and can only be opened once it cools off, can make a big difference in terms of user safety.

Perhaps a less obvious feature, but one that should still be considered, is insulation, says Uwe. “The insulation of some laboratory ovens is good enough to ensure that the product, even at the maximum temperature on the inside, is safe to touch on the outside.”

Users should also think about what types of materials are going into their ovens. “When you have flammable solvents or combustible material,” says Uwe, “you should not operate in a regular laboratory oven to begin with.” For this situation, there is a range of specialty ovens to pick from, the most basic one being a vacuum oven.

Even in a vacuum oven, Stimac advises users working with organic solvents to exercise caution. “A small quantity of organic solvents is OK to use, but the vacuum oven would need to have accessory safety options put onto it,” he says. Also, connecting chemical-based ovens to a duct system can help prevent fumes from blowing into the lab.

In general, Stimac recommends that users make sure that they are picking the right oven for their application. In certain cases, an oven may not even be necessary; for example, sometimes an incubator is sufficient for drying. Using the right instrument and adding appropriate accessories will tend to keep both users and samples safe, he says.

The vast number of safety features available for lab ovens empower customers to take safety into their own hands. And at the very least, lab oven users would be wise to make a habit of reading their safety manuals.

For additional resources on lab ovens, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit